“We Are Disciples!”
Acts 16: 9-15, May 26th, 2019
Sermon by pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear these ancient words of scripture from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter sixteen, verses nine thru fifteen.”
9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.
13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.
15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
“Let us now consider how this account helps us in our lives as disciples of Christ.”
“We Are Disciples!”
Our reading this morning finds Paul, a disciple of Jesus, having a vision, in the night, which he interprets as a ‘call’ from God, to travel from Asia Minor to Greece and the Greek Islands, to a Greek colony in Macedonia. It is in this setting where he meets Lydia. As Paul carries the story of Jesus, she is converted to follow the new ‘way’ of Christianity and he baptizes her and her family. Ultimately, this passage is about the work of discipleship and what it means to carry the message of the church to wherever the Spirit leads. The journeys of Paul and other disciples, whom travel with him throughout the region, offer a fascinating story of how Christianity is spread far beyond the walls of Jerusalem.
The one hundred and thirty years of ministry by this our church, has also been a fascinating and compelling story of a faith community, which began when there was only a very small population of folks in this region. Many deeds of good disciples and works of good outreach and ministry have impacted a great number of people, in this area, over the years. If this were not so, we would not be worshipping in this sanctuary today. As the years have come and gone many changes have occurred. The population of this region has expanded, and the demographics of our setting have been in flux. We have experienced great highs and discouraging lows. Such is the way of things in real life and in the lives of the people we strive to serve. As we journey forward, much like Paul and the early disciples, we will be called upon to go to new places and do new things. It will not always be easy, yet, it was not easy for Jesus, nor Paul nor Peter or any of the original group whom followed in the footsteps of Christ.
The question before us this morning is a compelling one. It ought to strike a chord with each of us whom are part of this conversation today. What does it mean to be a disciple? The answer we give, for each of us personally and for we as a faith community, ought to drive our decisions and play a central part in any goals or objectives, which we lift-up for renewal, as-well-as any new ideas we initiate as a church, as we go into our future! Let us start with the fundamental definition of a disciple. Basically, as disciples, we have chosen to follow someone. Let’s look at some classic examples, both in the Church and in the secular world. When Jesus was growing up, he followed in the footsteps of Joseph, whom brought him up. Joseph was a carpenter and thus Jesus became a carpenter. We know that at around age thirty, Jesus changed directions and followed the lead of the Spirit, as he formally began his journey as the Messiah, clearly taking on the responsibility of ministry which his heavenly Father called him to undertake.
Coincidently, my Uncle Chester was a carpenter, much like Joseph had been. The difference being he stayed with this profession throughout his life. Also, like Jesus, many chose to follow his lead, and many did not. I did not choose to follow my Uncle Chester. However, during the Great Depression, my father and his brothers all picked up their hammers and learned how to build houses. Over time, only Chester continued in the trade. It was really hard work. They started with building each other homes for their families. Chester went on to make it his life-long career. One of the stories passed onto me about Uncle Chester and how he ran his business is worthy of sharing. Seems he once hired a carpenter and on the day the newly hired came to work, it became apparent the man was unprepared for the work at hand; he did not bring any tools with him. I am told my Uncle fired him on the spot. My dad told me he said something to the effect: “Of what value is a carpenter if he does not have the tools to do the job!” My dad went on to explain that if the man had shown up drunk or half asleep or weak from lack of food, my uncle would have fired him as well. He concluded by saying, “If one wishes to become a skilled tradesperson, one must prepare by acquiring the skills, the tools and be ready and able to do the job!”
Now, my Uncle Roland, he liked to go ice fishing in the winter on the pond in the center of the small town I grew up in. He always had some hot chocolate for me when I trudged out across the pond to join him. I never did catch any fish, but he seemed to like my company. Perhaps, many of us here could tell a good story or two, of how you have followed in someone’s footsteps as your journey through life has moved ever onward. Perhaps, over the summer we can get a couple of you to share those experiences with us. Nothing better than a personal testimony of how one has been an apprentice on the way to discipleship!
The Christian definition of discipleship, of course, is choosing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. This includes being good students of his teachings and a willingness to reach out to others with the same acts of love, kindness and compassion, which the gospel accounts tell us of. The book of Acts is a fascinating story of how some of the first disciples went about following the teachings of Jesus, after the execution of Jesus and the extraordinary accounts of the resurrection and the Risen Christ! I was first told to read the entire book of the Acts of the Apostles like a novel. Just follow the story line without overly dissecting its every nock and cranny of theological essence. In my following the lead of the young pastor whom suggested this I found a spark that was to begin the blazing fire of discipleship in my heart. It has never gone out. But if that frightens you, don’t worry. Not everyone reads these verses and comes away with the same experience. Either way, it is a great read and I highly recommend it to you.
As you study the Bible you will find that the early disciples, who are believed to have known Jesus personally are referred to as apostles. This term also refers to early teachers and missionaries such as Paul who did a great deal to spread the work and teachings of Jesus to others far beyond the walls of Jerusalem. Disciple, follower, teacher, evangelist and advocate or spokesperson, all fit into this same category as we live into these various terms. Don’t get bogged down in the terminology, just remember who you have lifted-up and are seeking to follow in word and deed. Bearing in mind, that as an apprentice is where we all began or shall begin. Also, know that there are no age limits like some professions. I have been told that in some areas of the world commercial pilots must turn in their licenses at age sixty. Whereas in Christian discipleship, there is no age limit. One of my last long conversations with Pastor Jim Allen, just as he turned age one hundred and three, he was still preaching to me even as he once again offered his blessings to my ministry and that of this our church.
So, what of this being a Christian disciple? First and foremost, that is the central theme of this discussion. We are looking to those early Apostles and their disciples, like the Apostle Paul to show us the way. Are you excited yet? You ought to be! It has been the focus of my life for many years now, some of the most rewarding years of my life. Challenging too! Acquiring the proper tools and skills for the ministry which Christ has led me to – has not come easily or quickly. Yet, with perseverance, while staying focused on whom I am following has led me on a journey beyond my wildest hopes and dreams! Along the way, I have found the hardest part of following those like Paul is, that I suffer from the human condition. Remember Doubting Thomas, with his hesitance and disbelief? Remember Judas with his misguided temptations and ultimate anguish for making the wrong choice? And even Peter, whom publicly denied knowing Jesus when things got rough? One theologian named Janet H. Hunt reminds us with a simple reality check: “Indeed, might we then find ourselves, like Paul, called to ‘Macedonia,’ too?” /Janet H. Hunt/
When we follow someone, whether it be Jesus or my uncle the carpenter, we need to prepare ourselves for the tasks at hand. And we need to check our motives! Are we looking for financial secured as we become skilled workers, or are we looking to build a beautifully built piece of work which will provide a good home and a safe refuge from the storms of life for a family? Some of us become Christians because we followed our parents lead, others of us were attracted to the rudiments, the principles of Christianity. Now that we have gotten here, to where we are on our journeys, we need to be ready, willing and able to preform the tasks we are charged with. “…this week’s text finds Christians on the road.” /Eric Barreto/ Paul was led via a vision to travel even further out – further and further away from Jerusalem, the central focus of the Christian movement. If he had not followed the will of God, Christianity may not have spread as quickly and as widely as it did. Our responsibility is to follow in the footsteps of those whom came before us and made a real difference with their outreach, their willingness to serve as disciples of Christ.
The future for churches like ours is to go back to the basic principles of Discipleship; which shall increase our focus and some of our activities outside the walls of this sanctuary. It is our responsibility to prepare ourselves and those whom the Spirit of Christ brings to us, with the tools of ministry. Once prepared we need to center our attention on those whom are outside these walls. Our ministry needs to go out and travel into the community, just as the ministry of Jesus and his early disciples did; and as the Apostle Paul ultimately did. “God opened Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. /Acts 16:14b/ May God also open our hearts to listen to what God is saying to us now.